Pope John Paul II broke new ground with prayer asking forgiveness

Pope John Paul II broke new ground with prayer asking forgiveness


I seem to recall that the Pope was criticized for this liturgy. Now it appears prophetic. More apologies are due to the abused, and Pope Benedict XVI has responded in kind. Pope John Paul II showed a profound care for the Church as it moved into the new millennium, and “put out into the deep.” Choppy waters ahead, storms at sea. But the Lord’s Prayer should suffice. (Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us). I am reading Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. At the end of the day (literally) Ivan must learn from the Baptist, Alyoshka, how to pray. He says “The Lord’s behest was that we should pray for no earthly or transient thing except our daily bread.” And we must pray for spiritual things, he says “asking God to remove the scum of evil from our hearts.” So let us appreciate the legacy of Pope John Paul II as we look back to that special day, now more than a decade past:

VATICAN CITY, MAR 12 2000 (ZENIT.org).- Today John Paul II presided over a ceremony that will pass into the history books. For the first time, in a solemn ceremony, the Pontiff asked forgiveness for the past and present faults of the children of the Church. This gesture has become on of the most significant signs of the Jubilee of the Year 2000.

The ceremony began before Michelangelo’s “Pietà” altar in St. Peter’s. The Pontiff began this gesture before an image of Mary because the Church, like the Virgin, wants to take into its arms the crucified Savior, weighed down with the sins of her children, and invoking the Father’s forgiveness.

The homily during the Mass was a genuine examination of conscience for past and present faults of the Church’s children. But the most solemn moment came when John Paul II led a prayer in which he confessed the faults and asked for forgiveness.

“Mea Culpa”

After an initial plea for repentance, 7 Cardinals of the Roman Curia publicly confessed Christians’ past and present faults. The first, Benin’s Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, dean of the College of Cardinals, made a general confession of Christians’ sins in the course of history, while Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, called for confession of faults for the use of “non-evangelical methods” in the service of faith. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Central Committee for the Jubilee, exhorted the confession of sins that caused division among Christians; Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, acknowledged the faults committed “against the people of the Covenant,” Israel; and Japanese Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, mentioned sins committed against love, peace, the rights of peoples, respect of cultures and religions. Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, requested confession of sins that have wounded the dignity of woman and the unity of mankind. Finally, Vietnamese Archbishop François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, encouraged confession of sins in the area of fundamental rights of the human person: abuses against children, marginalisation of the poor, suppression of the unborn in the maternal womb or their use for experimentation…

The Cardinals’ confession included the topics mentioned earlier by the Pontiff in his homily. The Papal “mea culpa” also addressed the present day sins of Christians. “With greater reason, we confess our responsibility for today’s evils. In face of atheism, religious indifference, secularism, ethical relativism, violations of the right to life, indifference toward the poverty of many countries, we cannot but ask ourselves what our responsibilities are.” After asking God’s forgiveness, each one of those responsible for Vatican organizations venerated a very special crucifix, which today was in the Vatican Basilica, but which normally is displayed in the Roman Church of St. Marcellus. This is an image of Christ that has been venerated during Holy Years since the 14th century. At the end of the final prayer, the Holy Father himself embraced and kissed the crucifix as an expression of love and petition for pardon.

Reasons for the “Mea Culpa”

John Paul II explained the meaning of this unique ceremony at its conclusion, when he met thousands of faithful in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square to pray the Marian “Angelus.” “The Holy Year is a time of purification: the Church is Holy because Christ is her Head and Spouse, the Spirit is her vivifying soul, and the Blessed Virgin and the saints are her most authentic expression. However, the children of the Church know the reality of sin, whose shadows are reflected in her, darkening her beauty. Because of this, the Church does not cease to implore God’s forgiveness for the sins of her members.”

The Pope made it clear that “this is not a judgment on the subjective responsibility of the brothers who have preceded us: this is something that corresponds only to God who, as opposed to us human beings, is able to ‘scrutinize the heart and the mind.’ The act carried out today is a sincere acknowledgment of the faults committed by the children of the Church in the remote and recent past, and a humble supplication for God’s forgiveness. This will no doubt awaken consciences, enabling Christians to enter the third millennium more open to God and his plan of love.”

However, not only did the Pope ask for forgiveness, on behalf of the Church, he also forgave. “As we ask for forgiveness, we forgive,” he explained. “This is what we say every day when we pray the prayer taught to us by Christ: ‘Our Father… forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ May this Jubilee day bring all believers the fruit of reciprocal pardon given and received.”

After having forgiven and been forgiven, Christians, according to John Paul II, will be able to enter the new millennium “as more credible witnesses of hope.”

“Following centuries characterized by violence and destruction, and after this last especially dramatic one, the Church presents to humanity, which crosses the threshold of the third millennium, the Gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation, as the premise to construct authentic peace,” he concluded.

Now to the present, 2010. Pope Benedict XVI has recently stated: “Under the attacks of the world that speaks to us of our sins, we see that being able to do penance is a grace. And we see that it is necessary to do penance, that is, recognize what is wrong in our life, to open up to purification, to transformation, this pain is grace, because it is renewal, it is the work of divine mercy. And thus these two things that St. Peter says — penitence and forgiveness — correspond to the beginning of Jesus’ preaching: ‘metanoeite,’ that is, convert (cf. Mark 1:15). This is the fundamental point, then: ‘metanoia’ is not a private thing, that could be substituted by grace; ‘metanoia’ is rather the arrival of the grace that transforms us.”.

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